Extremely real, totally true playoff predictions

March 24th, 2021

If we have learned anything in the last year -- and I am not sure we have -- it is that there's nothing more foolish than trying to make predictions. It’s hard enough when there isn’t a global pandemic that lands on your head out of nowhere. But the baseball season is about to start, and if we’re not making predictions right now, when are we going to make them? If we writers didn’t make predictions now, what will you bludgeon us with by season’s end?

Hopefully, you have been reading my weekly previews of each division, which have been running on this site for a few weeks now. If you read those, you know that I, foolishly, predicted specific records for each team. That means, in my surely-wrong scenario, we will have the following playoff teams:

AL East: Yankees
AL Central: White Sox
AL West: A’s
AL Wild Card Game: Blue Jays at Twins

NL East: Braves
NL Central: Cardinals
NL West: Dodgers
NL Wild Card Game: Mets at Padres

So, how does it all go down? Let’s hop in the hot tub time machine, all the way to October 2021, where the stands are full of fans and everything seems almost … normal? Until the games start.

Tuesday, October 5: Welcome to Petco Park, where the Padres are rewarded for the best, most exciting season in their entire history with the unique pleasure of having to face Jacob deGrom in a sudden-death Wild Card Game. Then again, this is precisely why the Padres brought in all those ace starters this offseason -- so they’d have some weapons of their own to battle the deGroms of the world. Yu Darvish -- who firmly establishes himself as the team’s No. 1 starter during the season -- and deGrom trade zeroes until the sixth (helped by the weird mid-day San Diego shadows), when Tommy Pham launches a homer and opens the floodgates, with the Padres scoring three runs. That’s all the Padres need. Drew Pomeranz strikes out Jeff McNeil in the top of the ninth, and the Padres advance with a 3-1 victory. Fortunately, the Mets extended Francisco Lindor earlier in the season, so Mets fans know they’ll be back.

Wednesday, October 6: After playing games in Dunedin and Buffalo over the past two years, the Blue Jays aren’t exactly scared of playing a Wild Card Game at the opponent’s home field. The Twins and their fans are terrified, though, at the prospect of losing yet another postseason game. And after Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hits a three-run, first-inning homer off Michael Pineda (José Berríos and Kenta Maeda had to pitch the last few games of the season to secure the Wild Card spot), Target Field goes silent. Nelson Cruz hits a homer in the ninth and receives a standing ovation, just in case that’s goodbye, and that’s now 19 in a row. Sorry, Twins fans. Blue Jays advance.

Thursday, October 7: The NLDS begins! The first game features the Cardinals and Braves once again, and, once again, the Cardinals send the Braves’ fans home with their heads hanging with a Jack Flaherty gem and a 4-1 victory. But the fun comes in the nightcap, when the Padres explode with six runs off Clayton Kershaw in the second inning and storm out to a 1-0 series lead, stealing home-field advantage like the Cardinals. All those regular-season wins (116!) for the Dodgers are wiped away in one evening.

Friday, October 8: Four games! Just the perfect day to call in sick. (From the office. Which you will be able to go to on Oct. 8. Isn’t the future so exciting?) The first game features the Braves tying up the series by leaping all over Carlos Martínez (who’d had a surprisingly strong season for the Redbirds), punctuated by a truly incredible Ronald Acuña Jr. bat flip. Tony La Russa manages his first postseason game since winning the 2011 World Series and enjoys watching Lucas Giolito shut out the A’s over eight innings. In the nightcaps, the Yankees jump on an already-exhausted Blue Jays staff in a blowout, and Walker Buehler and Dustin May combine to shut down the Padres and even up the Padres-Dodgers series that already looks like a classic.

Saturday, October 9: The NLDS are even and already taut, but that’s not how it’s going down in the AL. The Yankees' offense, with a healthy Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, pounces on Toronto again, and Lance Lynn pitches seven solid innings in his first postseason game with La Russa since the manager accidentally conjured him in Game 5 of the 2011 World Series. Both series are now 2-0.

Sunday, October 10: Busch Stadium is packed to see Nolan Arenado’s first postseason game in St. Louis, but it’s his old double-play partner, Trevor Story, whom the Cardinals acquired at the Deadline (but have not extended), who smashes a three-run homer off Ian Anderson, backing Adam Wainwright for his first postseason win since 2013. Every Ken Rosenthal postgame question for Story is about whether he loves playing in front of these St. Louis fans and wouldn’t he love to re-sign? (Story’s ignoring of the question will make Cardinals Twitter go insane.) The star of the nightcap is Julio Urías, masterful in the postseason again, and the Dodgers reestablish control over the Padres.

Monday, October 11: John Gant still hasn’t cut his hair, but he does just enough to keep the Cardinals close before a two-run double from Paul Goldschmidt clinches the series. (Jordan Hicks strikes out Ronald Acuña on a 107-mph fastball to finish it off.) Cardinals advance. The White Sox continue to breeze, beating the A’s 14-2 to conclude their sweep. The White Sox advance. We begin to worry that we’re going to have all series end on the same day when the Yankees advance by finishing off their sweep of the Jays, but the Padres are not done yet. They continue Trevor Bauer’s miserable season by chasing him in the second inning, and we are headed back to Dodger Stadium tied.

Tuesday, October 12: There are no baseball games today. May I suggest going to a movie, or an opera, or a Broadway play, or having a few pints with several of your closest friends, and then hugging them. Because in October you should be able to do all these things. The future is full of limitless possibilities.

Wednesday, October 13: Game 5! Biggest baseball day in Southern California since … the Gibson homer? Anyway, Clayton Kershaw gets a chance to make up for his Game 1 faceplant, and in front of 50,000 plus screaming fans, he confuses and befuddles Padres hitters for seven innings. It feels like 2016 again with Kenley Jansen striking out Wil Myers to send the Dodgers to their fifth NLCS in six years. The Dodgers advance. The Padres will get to take another crack at them next year.

Thursday, October 14: The ALCS begins! It’s the first ALCS trip for the White Sox since 2005, and the Yanks’ first since, well, 2019. Chicago takes a quick series lead, stunning the Bleacher Creatures with four runs in the first inning off Corey Kluber. (Gerrit Cole is scratched from the Game 1 start with back stiffness.) Tony La Russa is suddenly three wins away from his seventh trip to the World Series.

Friday, October 15: Cole is ready for the Game 2 start, and this is, after all, why the Yanks got him. He gives them seven innings, 11 strikeouts, allows two runs, and the Yanks even the series. Meanwhile, it feels like 2013 again with the Dodgers and Cardinals in the NLCS, but the franchises are in very different places than they were then. Jack Flaherty returns to his native Southern California but gets shelled, and the Dodgers take a quick, definitive 1-0 series lead.

Saturday, October 16: Carlos Martínez gets a shot to redeem himself after his NLDS woes, and while he pitches better, Julio Urías outduels him and the Dodgers take a 2-0 lead. Free from the stresses of the Padres series, Dodgers fans just have a three-hour party in what feels to many like the celebration that was denied to them in 2020.

Sunday, October 17: It’s bone cold in the South Side of Chicago, leading to a pitchers' duel between Jameson Taillon and Lance Lynn. But Luke Voit powers an inside cutter over the left-field wall in the seventh, and the Yankees take a 2-1 series lead. At one point, Tony La Russa tries to start an angry staring contest with Aaron Boone in the other dugout, but it doesn’t really work.

Monday, October 18: In what will turn out to be his final game in a Cardinals uniform, Adam Wainwright is brilliant, and the Cardinals take a 2-1 lead into the top of the ninth. But a leadoff walk from Jordan Hicks leads to a two-run homer from Max Muncy, and suddenly the Cardinals are down 3-0. The Midwesterners don’t fare any better in the other series, with the Yankees launching six homers in a shellacking of the South Siders. The Yankees are now one game away from their first World Series appearance in 12 years.

Tuesday, October 19: The Cardinals don’t put up much of a fight, and they end up getting swept by the Dodgers, who are in prime position to be fully rested and terrifying come the World Series. The Dodgers advance. But the White Sox still have some life in them, thanks to a sparkling start from Lucas Giolito, vexing the Yankees and forcing a trip back to Chicago for Game 6.

Thursday, October 21: Never count out a Tony La Russa team. It’s a vintage TLR masterpiece, with nine different pitchers, all sorts of old-school strategies and even a couple of brushbacks for good measure. (Boone returns his stare this time.) The White Sox force a Game 7.

Friday, October 22: Controversially, the Yankees turn to Gerrit Cole for Game 7, and, fortunately for Boone’s future employment status, it pays off. He is fantastic. Stanton and Judge both homer and the Yankees stave off the White Sox and advance to the World Series. At last, the 12-year streak without a World Series appearance is over.

Tuesday, October 26: The Dodgers, back at the World Series. The Yankees, back at the World Series. The general assumption is that using Cole in ALCS Game 7 will hurt the Yanks, but it turns out that Jameson Taillon pitches the game of his life, outdueling Clayton Kershaw and winning Game 1 of the World Series. For the second time this postseason, the Dodgers have lost home-field advantage in Game 1.

Wednesday, October 27: The Yankees take a 3-0 lead on Walker Buehler, and Dustin May comes in to clean up the mess. He settles matters down, and the Dodgers slowly crawl their way back and tie up the game. In the bottom of the ninth, Justin Turner hits a walk-off sacrifice fly and the Series is tied.

Friday, October 29: Cole hasn’t pitched in a week, and he looks fully rested. The Dodgers strike out 16 times against him in a complete-game two-hitter. It is obviously the best World Series game any Yankees pitcher has ever pitched, yep.

Saturday, October 30: Look who redeems himself: Trevor Bauer might not earn his entire two-year salary with this World Series gem, but on the biggest stage, he’s brilliant, and the Dodgers tie the Series with a 5-1 win. After the game, he does all his postseason interviews wearing a hat with his Twitter handle on it.

Sunday, October 31: It’s Halloween! There will be kids trick-or-treating and everything will be OK! Also OK: Clayton Kershaw, who recovers yet again to win a World Series game, his first win against the Yankees, and the Dodgers are one game away from clinching. At home.

Tuesday, November 2: Two outs. Bottom of the ninth. Tie game. Game 6. Bases loaded. Mookie Betts is facing Aroldis Chapman. 3-2 count. Chapman brings the heat … and Betts laces it down the right-field line. A walk-off. An explosion of joy at Dodger Stadium. A nationwide party. It has taken 58 years, but the Dodgers finally clinch a World Series at Dodger Stadium. Congratulations, Dodgers.

It will go down exactly like this, and when it does, remember who told ya first.